Last week Labour government minister Hazel Blears hailed Slough Council (Labour controlled) as the UK's best example of how residents can make a difference in council decision making. Is this really true?
In 2006 two people who did not know Manor Park very well, Dexter Smith a
councillor living close to the M25 Motorway in Colnbrook and Gillian Ralphs a
council official living in rural Chalfont St Giles decided to imposed their
road improvement scheme on the protesting public. It soon became known
as the Northern Road and Cumberland Avenue zig-zag disaster scheme.
Cllr Dexter Smith and Assistant Director of Transport, Highways and Traffic Management Gillian Ralphs, paid more than £80k a year, despite lacking what many think are essential professional qualifications in road safety, traffic calming or traffic management thought they knew better than local residents. Instead of improving conditions it caused significant harmful exhaust pollution and accidents with peak-hours traffic gridlock at the Farnham Road roundabout and in Stoke Poges Lane. The scheme's design was fundamentally flawed but they approved it against the public's wishes.
Slough Council admits it did not consult residents living in the side roads off Cumberland Avenue and Northern Road. Residents claim hundreds signed a petition yet the council says the petition total was about 70 - a strange imprecise figure. Slough Council refuses to let anyone count the number of signatures claiming it is against the law to show the petition to anyone. Last week Berkshire fire brigade says they were not consulted by Slough Borough Council. The ambulance service said they are unaware of any consultation.
On 2 February 2006 Assistant Director Ralphs personally over-ruled the residents petition. Residents were not going to be listen to. The Northern Road and Cumberland Avenue mess has been an expensive nightmare costing over £250,000 in materials, alterations, repairs, council staff and consultants time. For the same price 2 new youth centres could have been opened.
Cllr Smith and Assistant Director Ralphs were responsible for the Red Cow roundabout improvement which caused dreadful road chaos and confusion. It made headline news.
According to the council's chief executive's office this week Assistant Director Ralphs is responsible for Slough High Street where pedestrians of all ages and mothers pushing prams keep tripping over the new kerb stones.
Everyone says there is insufficient colour difference between bricked road, kerb and bricked pavement. The kerbs, more than 6 inches high in places, are particularly dangerous for the elderly whose sight decreases with age.
Disabled people in wheelchairs and electric scoters and mothers with pushchairs and prams have been forgotten because there are not enough dropped kerbs in Slough's new £8 million major shopping centre improvement scheme.
Meanwhile just to prove the council knows best, Assistant Director Ralphs approved the Chalvey Grove and Telford Drive road humps. I drove over them at 10 m.p.h and thought they were going to rip-off the car's suspension. The council carried-out no safety or quality checks. Now the council is going to spend more of your money - hence the second highest council tax rise in the country - to reduce these too high bumps and make them safer for cars.
If Hazel Blears was right and the council actually listen to the public who pay their wages, things in Slough would be a lot better. Its time for a change. Slough needs to put the people's interests and wishes first.